Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
It's now three years since I left parish ministry to answer God's call to be involved in renewal. And still I continue to be amazed by the way God uses lessons learned in the parish, in hospital chaplaincy, in grief work and in palliative care in a role that is continually exploring the question: "Can these bones live?"
While it was envisaged that the role would last three years, it is clear that cultural change is a much longer project, demanding as much unlearning as learning.
I have loved working with ministers who struggle with all the demands and expectations placed on them by self and others. I, too, have been in that space, and so, I get it. It is so hard to step aside for a while and discern afresh God's purpose for us and for the church and to catch a fresh glimpse of the mission of God in the world today. It's even harder to commit to working with God in the reshaping of ways and practices, especially when we are the ones being hollowed out and renewed, called to lead and to serve in unfamiliar territory that pushes us beyond what is comfortable. It is much easier to simply keep on doing what we know best, faithfully adhering to maintaining a tradition that is known and loved by many even when we are aware that God's purpose is for so much more than we have settled into.
Over the three years, tender, vulnerable shoots have emerged that will require careful nurturing and continual creation of space for planting out and growth as well as management of the weeds that might choke the life out of the new and emergent. And, of course, careful pruning will always be a necessary part of flourishing.
Can these bones live? That depends on whether we are prepared to step aside and allow the breath of God to breathe life and shape into them. We can't reassemble what was, but we can be painfully reshaped by the spirit for the new thing that God is doing.
This is not a time to be tinkering with structures but to allow the breath of God to sweep away what seems fixed so that tender shoots on the edges might blossom and burst into life.
Instead of battening down the hatches, let's loosen the stays and let God surprise us.